Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bolton Wanderers 4 Hull City 1

When you start supporting Hull City, you should be warned that it's a decision that will inevitably lead to disappointment. In fact, disappointment is around every corner. Expect it. Embrace it. Cherish it. Never think a game is won until the whistle goes. Never think a player is signed until you see him wearing the shirt. Never bank on promotion until you have the fixtures in front of you in black and white. Now I've experienced my share of disappointments over the last 20-odd years. What happened in the first 7 minutes today was a new one though. Coming off a highly impressive win over Blackburn on Tuesday, it was a body blow.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Hobbs, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Meyler, Quinn [F] Koren, Gedo

I read some interesting comments from Dougie Freedman in the "Bolton News" before the game. Some of it uninformed bulls**t about us being a counter-attacking team who don't play out from the back and aren't attractive to watch. He also suggested we score a lot of goals from crosses and set pieces. We don't score a lot of goals full stop. Where his comments had some relevance, he said he thought we had weaknesses that they could exploit. I'd imagine he was referring to their use of the space between Evans and the back three which Mark Davies exploited to devastating effect and also the space behind the wing-backs where Chung-Yong Lee and then the mobile front pairing of N'Gog and Sordell found space to attack.

It's difficult to know whether Freedman's game plan had any effect at all. You can throw game plans and tactics out of the window when one side starts like we did. Mark Davies breezed past a static Evans, found Lee in behind Elmo and his cross was headed in by Pratley, arriving smartly into acres of space. Stockdale had no chance [1-0]. 75 seconds gone. Worst possible start away from home? Think again. Elmo gave the ball to Davies in our half. He raced forward again and played in N'Gog who turned in the box and went down under Chester's challenge. While most looked towards the referee who was indicating Chester took the ball, Mark Davies smashed the ball hard and low to Stockdale's left and the big 'keeper couldn't get a strong enough hand behind it. Stockdale was utterly distraught with himself [2-0]. What a disaster, we were still only in the fourth minute. City looked around at each other. Shell shocked.

At this point, we needed galvanising. We needed character. We needed 10 minutes of no-nonsense defending. In stead we conceded a corner, struggling to get to grips with their front two. The corner was crap, it hit Craig Dawson on the shoulder and was still in before Brady kicked it off the line [3-0]. Just a terrible, terrible goal to concede on top of two other. Time on the clock? Seven minutes. Three nil down after seven frigging minutes. Just utterly unbelievable. And yet, knowing Hull City's ability to turn triumph into disaster, completely believable. We took control of the game and played the ball around nicely but it didn't matter. The damage was done. Bolton knew they could relax and enjoy it. After Bruce and Chester made N'Gog look like Maradona with two of the worst attempted tackles you'll see, Sordell's snapshot hit the outside of the post. It could have been worse. It was the last Bolton attack of their own making for a while. City controlled the game up to half time but made nothing. Koren volleyed over from a cleared free kick. That was about all we had to show for 30 dominant minutes. We didn't cross the ball well enough, didn't get enough players into the box and didn't even work long range shooting opportunities.

Steve Bruce decided not to make changes at half time. I can see why, we'd been in control and he obviously wanted to gauge the reaction of the players to his half time bollocking. I like how measured Bruce is. It must have been tempting to do something like the team talk on the pitch. Bruce accepts that as utterly diabolical as those first few minutes were though, they were completely out of character for this team. So no publicity stunts, no me and them mentality and no changes. Personally, I'd have hooked at least three of them.

A complete aside, is there anything more irritating than being badgered by people behind you to sit down at the football? Here's a piece of advice pal, go down to the front of the stand and get the first row to sit down. Then the second row and the third row and so on. When the rows between A and P have all sat down, I'll happily join them. Until you've done that, leave me the **** alone.

City continued to dominate the ball but still didn't turn it into chances from open play. They did create some set piece situations. Robbie Brady had a golden opportunity after Meyler was pushed over where the penalty box and goal line meet. He hit the worst free kick I can remember. Right in front of the travelling support. The little high fives and the "never mind" looks from the other City players didn't go down well either. When he had another chance from deep minutes later, Brady put one on Bruce's head at the front post and he headed over when he should've troubled the 'keeper. He then cut inside and smashed a terrible effort into the crowd with his right foot. His next involvement was to turn Alonso inside out and win a corner. He was as frustrating as last season. Following promising play with ridiculous decision making and over-hit free kicks. Koren's corner cleared everyone, Elmo put it back in and Chester headed wide at the far post. He should've done better too.

George Boyd and Jay Simpson replaced Gedo and Koren. Boyd was the only highlight of the afternoon. He gave an assured debut. His movement is great, he's bright on the ball, uses it well and troubles defences. It wasn't long before we were back in the game. Meyler was fouled 25 yards out. I got ready to catch Brady's free-kick but he hit it low and it took just enough off a nick off Simpson to confuse Bogdan. Simmo needed one to go in off his arse, this might literally have been it [3-1]. The first 15 minutes were awful but what happened next was absolutely criminal. It was unprofessional in fact. Bolton hadn't had an attack of note for an hour. We'd worked hard to get any foothold in the game. As soon as we got it, we switched off. They poured forward and Stockdale saved smartly from Pratley. The resulting corner was twice cleared off the line, once by a Bolton player I think, before we half-cleared it to the edge of the box. Davies shot, Dawson deflected it with his heel and it was hope crushed; game over [4-1]. Brady had a far post header saved from one of the few crosses we didn't put on Zat Knight's head in the second half before sub Wheater tripped Boyd in the box. It would have been a soft penalty but it was a clear foul. This wasn't our day though, we weren't getting anything we hadn't earned. The ref finally put us out of our misery.

This was a result and, more importantly, a performance that will terrify Steve Bruce. It will also worry fans who felt that Tuesday's excellent victory over Blackburn Rovers proved our promotion credentials. We can play, we're a good side but today showed a very worrying soft centre. It showed a real lack of intelligence and know-how when it was needed. After conceding a disastrous first goal, we were naive and didn't shut up shop like any side should. By the time we were able to dominate the game with our football, it was gone.

Bolton have a good squad of players and should be capable of beating most sides in the division. I nearly tweeted this morning that I didn't think we'd be in the top two this evening but I thought better of it; it felt a bit negative. It's an indication of how tough this game was though, despite their lowly league position. Any manager worth his salt should be getting more out of the quality they have to work with. No-one could have predicted the way t would turn out though. Overall I'm disappointed that we didn't get something out of the game. We were better than them on the ball. If we'd weathered the early storm, we could have gone on to draw or win. Recovering from that start was near impossible though.

There's little point talking about individuals. Today's man of the match, whoever you thought it was, scored 6 out of 10 on the rating system, max. No-one played anywhere close to their level. We can only dust ourselves down and move on now. We've got 12 games to go and we probably need to win 2/3 of them. Today will give great encouragement to our rivals and to the teams we have to face in the next two months. They'll look at this and feel that they can do to us what Bolton did. At the moment, it feels like a one-off to me. One game too far in a tough fortnight. It goes without saying that we have to bounce back and bounce back quickly. Starting with Birmingham at home next week.

I'd be astonished if Boyd doesn't start given his second half impact. Who would he replace? Take your pick. None of the front five could complain at being left out. We could even switch to 4-4-2 to accommodate him. I said the other night that I think Watford have a really winnable run of games. We need to keep pace with them. Next four are Birmingham H, Palace A, Burnley A, Forest H. It may well just be me but that looks a tough little run. Particularly the away games against high-flying Palace and bogey side Burnley. Now is the time to stand up and be counted. We weren't today, that's for bloody certain.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Hull City 2 Blackburn Rovers 0

It's never easy being a Hull City fan. You've won two home games on the spin, you've finally found a goal poacher and you're second in the Championship table. Do you get to sit and enjoy it? Do you hell. You get this Huddersfield fiasco thanks to West Yorkshire plod and the news that your best player is probably out for the season. What a flaming life.

Thankfully we got back to the actual football tonight. On the pitch at least, it's still going great. Blackburn Rovers, fresh from an FA Cup giant killing win at Arsenal, arrived in confident mood. Something tells me they're not so confident now. We didn't just beat them; we dominated them. It looked a tough game on paper. I didn't speak to anyone all day who didn't say "I'll settle for a point". And we took them to the cleaners. But for two wonderful, wonderful saves, the scoreline might have reflected the game.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Hobbs, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Quinn, Meyler [F] Koren, Gedo.

So Robert Koren was restored to the starting line-up after Bruce masterfully rested him at the weekend. Evans replaced the injured McShane with Bruce dropping into defence. The visitors, chock full of big names (at this level anyway), started brightly, controlled possession for the first five minutes, forced a corner and Kazim Kazim-Kazim forced a good stop from Stockdale with a low drive. That may well be the last time I mention Stockdale, sorry if that spoils the result!

We took control after that and aside from the 5-10 minutes before half time when Blackburn successfully killed the game with their fouling and feigning injury, we dominated the rest of the half. David Meyler floated a lovely ball in behind to Quinn who'd peeled away at the back post but Dann beat Gedo to Quinn's knock-back. Four corners followed in quick succession but Blackburn defended them competently. A one-two with Quinn then released Brady who stayed composed and drilled a terrific cross between 'keeper and Koren who failed to get a touch. A deflected Brady effort forced a sixth corner as City pinned Blackburn back. The first of Kean's terrific saves followed. Another City corner was cleared to Koren on the left, he whipped in a wonderful ball to the near post where Meyler, free as a bird, nodded inside the post only for Kean to fling himself across and tip it round for a corner.

Blackburn decided their best bet after that was to kill the game and weak refereeing allowed them to waste our time. Kazim-Kazim took offence to Bruce's innocuous boot up his arse and started mouthing off. Somehow both players ended up with a telling off despite the Blackburn man showing a ridiculous level of aggression for such a non-incident. Kazim-Kazim then backed into Hobbs and sent him hurtling out of the air onto his head, earning a yellow. Orr was also booked for hauling down Brady in the corner. The referee, Mr. D. Murphy, lost his head. Hanley tripped himself up allowing Koren a run on goal but from fully 40 yards away, the ref awarded a free-kick for a trip he couldn't have seen. With half-time approaching, Kazim-Kazim decided the best way to remove Meyler from his back was to Judo throw him to the ground. The ref consulted his superior, Mr. D. Murphy, and decided a warning would suffice. Rubbish.

Half time. Chap next to me mentions that Gedo has barely had a kick. I concur but suggest he only needs one? In his defence, he'd had one more kick than Jordan Rhodes.

City started the second half well. David Meyler had another excellent game. His running with the ball and ability to get it to Elmo in space caused them all sorts of problems. Corry Evans had a slow start with two hiccups in the first five minutes but was terrific thereafter. The defence pressed Blackburn quickly at every opportunity, took on everything in the air and didn't give them a moment to think or a half-inch to work in. It really was a terrific foundation for us to go on and win the game. Olsson went into the book for fouling Elmo who'd skinned him on the right but the free-kick came to nothing. The next set piece was more eventful. Brady's right wing corner was cleared as far as Quinn. He turned down the opportunity to shoot, to a few moans and groans, and ran at Rekik. Just when everyone thought Quinny was going to go around him, he hit an early, almost-reverse cross with his left foot across the face of goal. It went over Koren's head and fell perfectly for Gedo to tap in at the far post [1-0]. He won't score many easier. He might not score many more important. The ball in was just beautiful though; begging to be put into the net. "See" I told my neighbour in the East Stand "One kick."

Blackburn prepared DJ Campbell, much to the delight of the home fans. Blackburn had a bit of fun earlier with "DJ Campbell, he's gone for his lunch". Now we responded with "Campbell, Campbell, What's the score?". While they were preparing the sub, Lee Williamson injured himself taking Brady out off the ball. The ref hilariously showed him a yellow while he was on the stretcher. Harsh. Blackburn replaced him with David Bentley. Remember him? Campbell replaced Rekik. You wouldn't have known he was on the pitch. The subs didn't affect the game in the slightest. Within minutes Jack Hobbs met Brady's low corner and forced another stunning save from Kean. This one was at a comfortable height but showed great reactions. It didn't keep us out for long. Before we could start to get nervous about the one goal lead, we doubled it. Evans switched play to Brady, he ran at Bentley, turned back on his right foot and, when you thought he'd ley it back to Quinn, delivered a pearler of a cross with his right foot beyond the far post where Elmo was waiting to volley back across the statuesque 'keeper and inside the post [2-0]. Elmo, like Gedo, celebrated in the empty South-West corner. We need to get some fans in there. Call it "Cairo corner" or "Al Ahly Alley" or something. 10% off if you wear a Fez? Let's have some imagination!

Despite there being more than 20 minutes left, that was the end of the action. City played the game out in truly professional style. We made the right subs at the right time, though the final one 5 seconds from the end of stoppage time was a bit pointless. We kept the ball well, frustrating the visitors and we barely gave them a sniff of goal. One rare mistake saw Stockdale kick the ball poorly straight to DJ Campbell. He mis-controlled it, then recovered it and passed it into touch. Right in front of the East Stand who serenaded him with a lovely verse of "How deep is your love". Or "WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY!" Olofinjana replaced Evans, Cairney came on for Gedo and then Fathi replaced Koren in stoppage time. Not a bad days work for Fathi if he's on appearance money.

So that was that. Wandering out of the stadium among happy, smiling faces. Learning Leicester and Cardiff had lost. Hearing Watford had won again. That one worries me. Watford are in superb form. They're like the Hull City of 2008. They don't fear anyone at the moment. Until they meet Hull and Cardiff in consecutive games in early April, they have a run of very winnable games. If we're in front of them on April 3rd, this is our season.

Elmo picked up the Man of the Match in the ground. He was terrific tonight. Aside from Gedo and Stockdale who were pretty quiet, everyone was. And I don't care if Gedo sleeps in the stand for for 85 minutes a game if he wants to keep poaching winning goals! Jack Hobbs was a colossus. Chester and Bruce didn't panic all night. Bruce made a super challenge on Bentley at the death to deny Blackburn so much as a consolation. Quinn showed real quality to go with the ever-present endeavor. Koren looked lively again thanks to his rest and linked the play nicely.

We played the team I thought would finish 2nd this season tonight. On Saturday it's off to the Reebok to play the team I predicted would be first! I hope they're as poor as Blackburn were. I hope we're as good as we were tonight.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Huddersfield vs. Hull City: To boycott or not boycott

The last thing any football fan wants to do is miss a game. Especially a local away game at the “business end” of the season. Firstly because we feel the need to get behind our team, to be the “12th man” that managers so often refer to. To give our boys a bit of vocal support when they would otherwise be desperately outnumbered. Secondly, because you never know when it might be “that game”. That game you missed because your brother got married and they won 5-0. That game you missed while having your appendix out and they beat Man United in the cup.  This sense of loyalty and desire to follow your team regardless of time, distance and expense is the reason why football fans can be treated as second class citizens by the police or the television companies and they are allowed to get away with it time and time again. It’s bad enough that football clubs themselves are making a solid attempt to price “working class” fans out of the game.

English football has moved on since the 1980’s. Everyone seems to know and acknowledge this except the police. To never be complacent about the threat of football violence is a sensible stance. That’s why we still have police presence (in the background), fan segregation and CCTV in football stadiums. That is accepted by fans who understand the reasons. Unfortunately, this often gives way to complete over-reaction. This may or may not be true but it seems to me that West Yorkshire police and Humberside police are two of the worst offenders. How often do the Met police insist that West Ham vs. Chelsea is made to kick-off at lunchtime when there are twice as many supporters as at Hull City vs. Leeds United? In fact, Millwall vs. West Ham aside, how many London derbies are heavily restricted? Not many. And why? Because there is no recent history of trouble.

Football fans, by and large, are well behaved. There are always exceptions to the rule as there are any time 10,000+ people get together for any reason. The disorder at football matches pales in comparison to that at public demonstrations in the past few years and yet we are far more restricted and we pay for the pleasure. How can it be that the hundreds of thousands of football fans who travel up and down the country on a weekly basis can be criminalised without any cause or reason and it can be publicly acceptable? Acceptable to the point that thousands of fans, plenty without so much as a parking ticket on their record, can be told where they can watch a football match, how they can do it and how they must travel?

The sad thing is that unless our club takes a stance on our behalf, then we’ll accept it. 1,500 Hull City fans will be shepparded to Huddersfield, watched like hawks for 90 minutes and shipped off home again. The West Yorkshire police will then pat themselves on the back and ensure this becomes normal practice.  And so we’ll huff and puff next time but we’ll accept it again. And again. And again. Because we can’t do anything about our desire to support our team or the attitude of the dinosaurs who run the police in Yorkshire.

I’d like to think the police will see the public reaction and do something about this most recent ludicrous ruling that all Hull City fans should be escorted to Huddersfield like cattle before the club are forced to take a stand. If this doesn’t happen, and I would be very, very surprised if there’s anyone in west Yorkshire police forethinking enough to make it happen, then I urge Hull City to reject the ticket allocation, to cost Huddersfield Town a significant amount of money and to stand up for the fans. The vast majority of whom are honest, hard working, second class citizens.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Hull City 1 Charlton Athletic 0

The second of three home games in seven days for the Tigers saw Charlton roll up at the KC Stadium. A team we hadn't beaten at home since October 1970. Following Tuesday's hard-earned but ill-deserved victory over Derby County, another three points would see City pull six points clear of Leicester (who'd have two games in hand) and remain ahead of Watford and Crystal Palace in the Championship table. While still short of their brilliant best the performance was a vast improvement from Tuesday and City produced some slick football albeit in patches.

Despite indicating on Tuesday that the KC pitch would make it difficult to play the 3-5-2 system, Steve Bruce stuck with it on a surface that while patchy looked firm and flat and held up well. Unfortunately, it was that annoying game you get once in Spring and once in Autumn when the sun sits low over the West Stand and shines in your face for most of the game, or at least it does if you sit at the back of the East Stand. Thanks to a cheap ticket offer in the Hull Daily Mail (and Papa Allam inviting 360 kids & parents from Hull's Children’s University) the crowd was bigger than Tuesday. Charlton wore black shirts and white shorts, the shirts looked dark blue at first, just like Millwall. Their keeper wore all white. I joked beforehand that knowing us, he'd go home clean.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Hobbs, McShane [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Bruce, Meyler, Quinn [F] Gedo, Simpson

Gedo starting after his second half performance on Tuesday was no surprise. Alex Bruce replacing Corry Evans might've been a few weeks ago but Corry had a poor game and a half last week and Bruce hasn't put a foot wrong regardless of which position he's played this season. City started the game brightly and produced several neat moves in the opening five minutes. Elmohamady was heavily involved while Simpson and Gedo both showed their ability to hold up the ball and bring other players into the attack. Charlton's left back Evina had real trouble with Elmo throughout the game. He was obviously aware of Elmo's liking for delivering the diagonal ball early so he positioned himself to stop the crosses which left him in a position where Elmo could just run past him. When he blocked the run into space, Elmo delivered early. The only real problem with our attacks in the first half was that they were too Elmo-centric. Rarely did we get Brady into the same positions. If I was an opposition manager coming to the KC, I'd put a defensive left midfielder in place to cut out the space in front of the left back.

The first real effort on the Charlton goal came from a right wing cross but not from Elmo, from Paul McShane. McShane just failed to connect with Brady's deep corner. Elmo retrieved the ball and fed McShane who whipped in a tremendous cross that found Meyler at the far post. He headed it back beyond the 'keeper but it was booted off the line. After the early City pressure, Charlton began to feel their way into the game and a couple of silly free-kicks gave them the opportunity to pile men into our box. David Stockdale came and punched twice and David Meyler threw himself in the way of a great strike returning the first punch. Possessions was split about 50/50 for 20 minutes and another frustrating afternoon looked possible. Then a Tigers break saw Gedo pick up the ball, find Meyler who returned the ball in behind and Johnnie Jackson slid in to deny Gedo and concede a corner. Brady swing the corner in, Ben Hamer tried to punch and got nowhere near it, Elmo tapped the ball goalwards and Gedo spun and poked it home [1-0]. The finish was a simple one but it was Gedo's quick reactions and goalscoring instinct that made it possible.

Ricardo Fuller was up front for Charlton. He looked a decent signing for them but hasn't produced a whole lot. He didn't today either, besides the odd glimpse. He did fasten on to one long ball and took the ball past Hobbs before hitting the deck on the corner of the penalty area. I thought it was a foul but the Ref didn't and told Fuller to get up. Fuller stayed down "injured" but jumped up after a squirt with the magic spray and gave the Ref a gob full for not awarding the free-kick. The Ref responded with a yellow card. Jackson dragged Fuller away before he talked himself into a second one. City were settled by the goal and passed the ball a little more crisply. Simpson and Gedo worked hard to make themselves available. Simpson held the ball up well while Gedo showed a great knack for laying the ball off first time with his head or a lovely cushioned volley. Thanks to Leon Cort, the teams went in at 1-0. Elmo switched the play to Robbie Brady on the left, he held up the ball, let Quinn run in behind and flicked the ball through two defenders to Quinn. His cross skimmed off the head of Simpson, taking it away from Gedo flying in behind, but Elmo once again retrieved the ball and teed up Meyler whose shot was arrowing towards the top left hand corner when Cort flung himself at it and headed it over.

City wasted an early chance to double the lead in the second half. Brady took a short corner to Elmo who crossed to McShane. It was a good chance, 8 yards out, but McShane kicked the ground instead of the ball. Stephen Quinn then broke towards goal but Jackson brought him down and was booked. Brady hit the free-kick hard but it was always rising and flew 2-3 feet over. Quinn was chopped down several times, twice without anything being awarded, much to his frustration. Charlton has barely had a look-in at the other end but their luck was about to change. McShane was in the process of clearing up nicely behind Brady when he felt his hamstring. Like any clever pro he limped back onto the pitch and then went down requiring medical attention. The Charlton fans went mental, just as we would in their position. Ahmed Fathi replaced McShane and took up the defensive midfield role with Alex Bruce dropping into the back three. The change disrupted City and we had a major wobble. Too often we tried to take the ball down to play it out and under-estimated the pressure from Charlton leading to hurried clearances and the odd up and under.

From the corner McShane conceded while injuring himself, Ricardo Fuller raced across the near post and headed powerfully into the net pole. City, playing on the break, forced a first save from Hamer when Brady headed Elmo's cross back to Meyler, accidentally, and the Irishman shot with power but at a good height for the 'keeper. Another neat move saw City play the ball from Chester near our penalty area through midfield to release Brady on the left. He was forced to check back in and found Fathi who switched play nicely to Elmo and his cross was volleyed over by Gedo. Robert Koren came on to replace Jay Simpson who received an appreciative applause from the City fans. Either side of the change, Charlton should have equalised. Robbie Brady was caught by Wilson clearing the ball and collapsed in a heap. City played on but lost the ball allowing Charlton to come at us. The City players were pre-occupied with asking them to put the ball out while the crowd booed Charlton's possession. They had no reason to put the ball out though, we hadn't. Fortunately Elmo was still alert and as the ball was played through to Pritchard, he put just enough pressure on to ensure the shot from 12 yards went just wide of Stockdale's right hand post. After the change, Charlton sub Haynes went through in similar fashion and shot straight at Stockdale.

The pattern of the game was set for the last 10 minutes. Charlton played with urgency, getting the ball forward quickly and getting players forward. City played on the break with Koren, eager to impress, pulling the strings. Gedo, who'd looked miles short of fitness at Brighton a week ago, was still full of running. He raced onto a Koren through ball but the advancing keeper forced him wide and we had to settle for a corner. Koren then slid a tremendous ball in behind but Gedo didn't anticipate it. I'm not sure anyone would have. Koren then volleyed wide hurriedly from distance trying to catch out the 'keeper who'd left his goal before he played in Gedo on the right and his cross was headed over by Meyler at the near post. On 84 minutes, Charlton's big chance arrived. Wright-Phillips crossed to the near post where Haynes got across Hobbs and flicked goalwards. Stockdale stood up tall and blocked it. At that point, the late equaliser looked inevitable. Instead, we spent the last couple of minutes plus added time bombarding them on the break. How we didn't score a second, I'll never know. Cairney replaced Gedo to run down the clock and allow our goalscorer a deserved round of applause and almost immediately latched on to a poor back-pass and raced towards goal but tripped himself up and went sprawling. Elmo went free on the right but pulled the ball back poorly with three waiting. With the last play of the game, Cairney forced a fine save from Hamer. He finally got that kit dirty. The linesman showed the number 44 for a Charlton sub and then four minutes for added time. The Ref got them mixed up and only realised half an hour into stoppage time! At least it felt that way.

With the news coming through that Watford and Palace had both won, this was a crucial victory. It also puts lots of pressure on Leicester to win their games in hand. The Hull Daily Mail reported this morning that Steve Bruce was putting more importance on results rather than performances and his words were born out with this game. Once the final whistle went, the performance became irrelevant. The record book says we won and took three points and little else matters. I overheard a lot of people talking about our lack of goals but that also doesn't matter. You need to score one more than the opposition most weeks and you'll be fine. We finished 8th last season without being prolific and we're in the top two approaching the business end of this season without scoring too many more. We're a team who don't concede a lot of goals and nick tight games. We have to accept that as it isn't going to change now. There's no use bemoaning it. Just pay attention to the points column and have regular heart checks. Perhaps invest in a heart monitor?

Gedo picked up today's "Man of the Match: Paul McShane" award and it was thoroughly deserved. It's still early days but he looks the business. He's a quick, powerful runner, he's mobile, has great feet, decent awareness and a striker's instinct. The only blot on his copybook was a booking picked up in the first half for a ludicrous challenge on Pritchard when he was going nowhere on the touchline. David Meyler also had a fine game. Like Tuesday he worked hard to get back and defend but he showed better quality on the ball and got into the penalty box as he was doing with regularity before New Year. Jack Hobbs won some big headers as Charlton threw the ball forward at the end and Alex Bruce won the ball well in both positions. Stockdale came and punched through crowds when we needed him too and came up with a big save at the end. Ahmed Fathi came on for his debut and looked rusty. He was caught out wanting too much time in possession and gave the ball away cheaply. He held the position well, got around the pitch quickly and made a few decent tackles and passes. It's early days for him though.

Next up is Blackburn who'll provide a stern test. They already had a good looking side on paper but they've started to produce in the league and today's victory over Arsenal suggests they are full of confidence. I'd happily settle for a point after two tough games already this week. You'd imagine that unless Bruce decides to switch the formation, Bruce will replace McShane, who'll surely miss out, and either Fathi, Evans, Cairney or Koren will come into midfield. That's not a bad lot to choose from.

There are only fourteen games remaining now, less than a third of the season. It's getting down to the nitty gritty, to what Steve Bruce calls the "tickly" period. At the start of the season, I'd have bitten your hand off if offered a play-off place. It's getting towards the point where I'd be gutted to have to settle for one.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Hull City 2 Derby County 1

Firstly, apologies for the lack of reports lately. I didn't go to Millwall and don't do reports for games I watched on TV! I'd have rather become a Leeds fan than sit and write about that Barnsley game *shudders*

For 45 minutes tonight, the thought of writing about this game filled me with dread also. The Tigers were well below par and were frustrated by a Derby side who used fair means and foul to try and ensure they went home with a point. City made one change from Brighton with Alex Bruce's deal-leg ruling him out. Ahmed Fathi took a place on the bench as Corry Evans replaced Bruce.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Hobbs, McShane [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Meyler, Quinn [F] Koren, Simpson

The first nine minutes set the tone for the first half. Derby started time-wasting early while City struggled to string passes together. Derby worked hard and pressed us while pushing their full-backs on to stop Elmo and Brady getting in behind. That didn't excuse our inability to move the ball with any pace or accuracy. David Meyler put in a good defensive shift and made some great tackles but he passed the ball like a non-leaguer. Connor Sammon worried me. He's a bit of a donkey ad I said so last week. I was sure that would come back to bite me. He was played in on our left by Ward early on but poked a shot well wide. Quinn then fired a pass straight to Ward who ran in on goal but we were rescued by a brilliant Jack Hobbs tackle. That capped a really shaky start. At the other end Simpson worked hard to retrieve the ball, after his miscontrol lost it in the first place, and lay off to Elmo whose fine cross found a penalty area bereft of amber shirts. No-one had bothered to make a run to replace Simpson. We don't just struggle for goals because we lack a poacher, we lack the mentality throughout the team to desperately want to get on the end of crosses.

The players might've left the field to a chorus of boos at half time if not for the ref who stole the ire of the home crowd. He'd already annoyed everyone with his handling of the time wasting, handing out several warnings to their 'keeper but not doing anything about it. He eventually booked Paul Coutts for kicking the ball away. His first offence but a well deserved booking on behalf of his teammates. The ref then booked David Meyler for god knows what. Meyler went down on the right and handled the ball as he thought he was fouled. Play carried on for 10 seconds or so before the linesman started flagging. That started a bit of handbags with Meyler and Coutts going nose to nose. I did wonder if the linesman had finally registered the handball but he hadn't. Instead Meyler took a yellow and no-one could work out why. Gareth Roberts then flattened Meyler, at least his fifth offence, only to be given a final warning. Seconds later Corry Evans went into the book for a similar offence. No consistency whatsoever. The ref also awarded a free-kick against Hughes for a foul on Koren when he'd said an identical challenge from Meyler on Hughes was fair so it wasn't all against us.

Our set pieces in the half were awful, Brady and Elmo hitting the first man from free kicks and Koren's corners evading everyone. So I found it a bit puzzling that when Quinn and Elmo took a free kick short and Koren switched to Brady in acres of space, the crowd moaned that we hadn't chucked it in the box. We came a damn sight closer from that one. Elmo's deliveries from open play were far better than his free-kicks and he created the best chance of the half. Simpson held up well from Elmo's throw-in, laid off to Elmo, he crossed towards the near post, Quinn got across his man and flicked a header towards the far post, missing by a foot or so. The ref mercifully brought an end to the half soon after thought by rights, we should still be playing now to make up for the time-wasting!

Steve Bruce made a double change at half time, introducing Gedo and Proschwitz for Koren and Simpson. It was the same change that proved utterly pointless at Brighton on Saturday. I thought it was madness. Making one change I could live with. Swapping both Koren and Simpson for Gedo, who looked miles short of match sharpness on Saturday, and Proschwitz, who is Proschwitz, was a mistake. I tweeted so too.

"Madness, utter madness".

When Gedo scored 90 seconds later I'm pretty sure I saw Steve Bruce stick two fingers up at me! It was a fine goal too. Robbie Brady was released by Quinn, he strode into the space on the left, whipped in a cross, Keogh got caught underneath it and Gedo headed it back where it came from. Bottom corner [1-0].

In my defence, I wasn't to know from the change that good old Brucie had changed the system to 4-4-2 with McShane becoming the right back and Quinn moving out left in front of Brady. It was a bold move designed to get crosses into the box, probably more from Elmo than Brady, which we lack whenever we introduce Proschwitz from the bench. Because of the early goal forcing Derby out of their shell the second half was far more open. Gedo looked much brighter than he had on Saturday and volleyed way over after meeting Elmo's cross before picking the ball up on the left and running well with it before Meyler overhit a ball to get Quinn in behind. Derby would start to take over but not before City should have doubled the lead. The ball went into Proschwitz in the box, he held it up well, laid off to Meyler and his shot deflected onto the post. Quinn latched onto the rebound and went down under a light challenge with the ref rightly waving away any penalty appeal.

The visitors were initially lifted by a City mistake. A long ball bounced awkwardly and Chester's back header just about made it to Stockdale with Ward sniffing around. He's a terrific little player Jamie Ward, great pace, excellent work ethic and real awareness of what's around him. He inspired Derby's recovery, one that looked highly unlikely for most of the first half. Hendrick was given far too much room outside the box to line up a shot that Stockdale parried as it wobbled a little through the air. A little scramble then ensued before Ward hit a shot from 18 yards that was veering off target but hit Sammon and flew across the goal and inches wide with Stockdale at full stretch and probably beaten. Ward then raced away on the left, drew Chester and lobbed over to Sammon who'd peeled away from Hobbs. The big Irishman controlled well and fired a shot off the bar that bounced down and away from goal. It wasn't a confident finish but was centimetres away from being good enough. Sammon then went off for Jacobs. He's rubbish in front of goal but he caused us problems with his strong running in behind. He outstripped Chester in the second half which takes some doing. I was quite pleased to see him go off.

City were a little nervous. Steve Bruce had Liam Rosenior ready on the touchline, obviously contemplating a defensive change to see out the victory. Some of the sloppy passing was evident again and we were indecisive with clearances. We had another decent chance to seal the game when Gedo was barged in the back by Keogh inside the 'D'. Instead of hammering the free-kick, Brady tried to get it up and down over the wall and it flew a few feet over. Then, from very little, they equalised. Proschwitz conceded a free-kick in our half. Coutts stole 5 yards. His chip into the box was cleared to our right. Elmo ran out to meet the oncoming full back but bottled the challenge and from the whopped cross, Ward tapped into an empty net. The net empty because Stockdale flew out to punch but got nowhere near it [1-1]. Chester raged at Elmo for ducking the tackle and the crowd deflated knowing how rarely in the last few seasons we've pulled this type of win out of the bag.

All credit to the Tigers though, pull it out of the bag they did. Brady's cross was cleared to Evans who shot with three super-committed Rams charging him down, deflecting the ball for a corner. I thought "we never score from corners without Faye", plenty of others did too I'm sure. Brady whipped the ball in, Elmo rose and headed down into the ground and up high into the net. What a beauty [2-1]. I thought it was Gedo at first, a) because I read #22 on his shirt, and b) because he threw off his shirt, ran around like a lunatic and jumped into the crowd like a man who'd just scored twice on his home debut. I should have realised it wasn't of course because Elmo was running around topless and Gedo had one of those amber undershirts on. The exuberance was obviously the relief of a man who knew he bottled the tackle for their equaliser. What a way to make up for it!

If Derby had plans t press for an equaliser, they went up in smoke with Roberts was sent off. He and Proschwitz went in for the ball on half way. Prozzy stretched with boot up and won the ball and was caught by Roberts. The ref wasted no time in producing a red card. As an isolated incident, it was harsh. Both players went in similarly and ours nicked the ball first. Given that Roberts escaped a couple of bookings in the first half, he deserved it overall. Before we saw out 5 minutes of stoppage time quite comfortably (When they wasted time first half it was 90 seconds added, when we did it second half to a lesser degree, it was 5 minutes) we had a great chance to clinch the game. Gedo made another great run in behind and was found on the right. He got his head up, saw Proschwitz in support and put the ball on a plate for our big German to seal it. Not only did he not score, he didn't even make a connection with the ball. Dire. Still, once the whistle went, with three precious points in the bag, no-one cared.

This was a hard earned win against stubborn opposition while we were well short of our best. On the face of it, we didn't look like a top two side. It was the sort of victory that promotion winning sides eek out though. They find a way to win when they aren't allowed to play, or aren't capable of playing, free-flowing football. It was a cold night, tricky looking pitch, bitty, scrappy game and well drilled opponent and we came away with the only thing that matters, the three points. If we're to achieve this season, we'll have to do the same several more times. We'll probably have to do so in the next few weeks, with games coming thick and fast and teams coming to the KC Stadium with a renewed respect for our threat.

I didn't hear who picked up the man of the match tonight. It wasn't a great contest with several usually reliable performers being well below par. For the most part the back three were very solid, Paul McShane probably the pick of the bunch for his incredible skills display. The standout overall though would be Gedo. He was anonymous on Saturday, looking more like a competition winner than a Championship striker. Tonight he showed good mobility, pace, strength, intelligent movement and a great finish when it was needed. I don't know if fitness wise he's ready to start but he's certainly got something about him that we don't have. Robbie Brady was quite for the most part but walks away with both assists so he'll be happy. He needs to work at whipping in free-kicks from deep though. Watching some tapes of Stephen Hunt from 09/10 might help him.

There were plenty of negatives. The whole team passed like Scotland in the first half. David Meyler being the most disappointing. I haven't seen him have a good game since we signed him permanently. He was excellent exploiting the space in front of Elmo in his loan appearances but hasn't done so lately. He gave us some defensive steel at time but was a key reason for our shabbiness going forward. Corry Evans also passed poorly and slowly while Quinn made mistakes we've not seen from him. Koren and Simpson both moved around to find the ball and while they picked it up nicely at times, they left a gaping hole up front that no-one else had any inclination to fill. I'd still always drop Koren into midfield rather than hook him but I can see why Bruce didn't as he was reverting to a four man midfield. Nick Proschwitz eh? We're still not seeing anything like the best of him (I hope). He doesn't win anything, he's barely involved, the ball will do anything to avoid him in the box and then when it does finally arrive at his feet in front of goal, he misses a sitter. He's not a worth a place. He's barely worth a cameo. Perhaps, and it's a big perhaps, with a run in the side, he'd find his form. But who in their right mind would give him a run in the side?

I see a few decisions for Brucie against Charlton on Saturday. Firstly he'll have to decide between his tried and trusted 3-5-2 or the bog standard 4-4-2 that got us out of a hole tonight. Secondly he'll have to pick between Koren, Simpson, Gedo and Proschwitz up front. The insipid first half could put doubts in his mind about a few others, especially as Saturday will be the second of three games in quick succession. I fancy us to beat Charlton more than I do to beat Blackburn so personally, I wouldn't rest anyone for this one, I'd try and get the points in the bag. Not that I'll be questioning Brucie*, his madness is magic.

*I will really.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

English clubs by last major honour

This is a list of English league clubs (2012/13 season) showing the last major honour won.

50 of 92 clubs (54%) have never won a major honour.
39 of 92 clubs (42%) have never appeared in a major cup final.
83 of 92 clubs (90%) have not won a trophy in the last decade.
79 of 92 clubs (86%) have not won a trophy in the last 20 years.
Only 16 of 92 clubs (17%) have won a trophy more recently than Luton Town (Conference) and Wimbledon (Defunct) in 1988.
6 clubs' last trophy were League Championships.
Chelsea and Ipswich Town's last trophies were European cups.
Clubs marked with an asterisk (*) have won only one major trophy.
Clubs marked with a hash (#) have never won the league championship.

Hull City are the highest placed League club never to have won a major or minor trophy of any description (Wigan are two time League Trophy winners, Fulham won the Intertoto cup!).

Clubs listed by last major honour

Chelsea- 2012 Champions LeagueManchester City- 2012 League Title
Liverpool- 2012 League Cup
Manchester United- 2011 League Title
Birmingham- 2009 League Cup
Portsmouth- 2008 FA Cup
Spurs- 2008 League Cup
Arsenal- 2005 FA Cup
*Middlesbrough- 2004 League Cup
Blackburn- 2002 League Cup
Leicester- 2000 League Cup
Aston Villa- 1996 League Cup
Everton- 1995 FA Cup
Leeds United- 1992 League Title
Sheffield Wed- 1991 League Cup
Nottingham Forest- 1990 League Cup
*Coventry- 1987 FA Cup
*Oxford- 1986 League Cup
Norwich City- 1985 League Cup
Ipswich- 1981 UEFA Cup
#West Ham- 1980 FA Cup
Wolves- 1980 League Cup
*Southampton- 1976 FA Cup
Derby County- 1975 League Title
Sunderland- 1973 FA Cup
*Stoke- 1972 League Cup
Newcastle- 1969 Fairs Cup
*Swindon- 1969 League Cup
WBA - 1968 FA Cup
*QPR- 1967 League Cup
Burnley- 1960 League Title
#Bolton- 1958 FA Cup
*Blackpool- 1953 FA Cup
*Charlton- 1947 FA Cup
Preston- 1938 FA Cup
*Cardiff- 1927 FA Cup
Huddersfield - 1926 League Title
Sheffield Utd- 1925 FA Cup
*Barnsley- 1912 FA Cup
*Bradford- 1911 FA Cup
Bury- 1903 FA Cup
*Notts County- 1894 FA Cup

Clubs without a major honour listed by last near miss

Wigan (Lost 2006 League Cup Final)
Millwall (Lost 2004 FA Cup Final)
Tranmere (Lost 2000 League Cup Final)
C.Palace (Lost 1990 FA Cup Final)
Oldham (Lost 1989 League Cup Final)
Watford (Lost 1984 FA Cup Final)
Brighton (Lost 1983 FA Cup Final)
Fulham (Lost 1975 FA Cup Final)
Rotherham (Lost 1961 League Cup Final)
Rochdale (Lost 1962 League Cup Final)
Bristol C (Lost 1909 FA Cup Final)

Clubs without a major honour or near miss listed by most notable achievement (split by division)

Reading (Championship winner 2012, Full Members Cup 1988)
Swansea (Championship Play-offs 2011, League Trophy 1994, 2006)

Hull (Championship Play-offs 2008)
Peterborough (League Cup Semi-finalist 1966)

MK (League Trophy 2008)
Bournemouth (Associate Members Cup 1984)
Brentford (League Trophy Runners-up 1985, 2001, 2011)
Carlisle (League Trophy 1997, 2011)
Colchester (League Trophy Runners-up 1997)
Crawley (Conference Champions 2011)
Crewe (Welsh Cup 1936, 1937)
Doncaster (League Trophy 2007)
Hartlepool (League One Play-off finalist 2005)
Orient (FA Cup Semi finalist 1978)
Scunthorpe (League One Champions 2007)
Shrewsbury (Third Division Champions 1979)
Stevenage (League Two Play-offs 2011)
Walsall (Division Two Play-offs 2001)
Yeovil (League Two Champions 2005)

Accrington (Conference Champions 2006)
Aldershot (Conference Champions 2008)
Barnet (Conference Champions 1991, 2005)
Bristol R (Third Division Champions 1990)
Burton (Conference Champions 2009)
Cheltenham (Division Three Play-offs 2002)
Chesterfield (League Trophy 2012)
Dag and Red (League Two Play-offs 2002)
Exeter (Third Division South Runners-up 1933)
Fleetwood (Conference Champions 2012)
Gillingham (Second Division Play-offs 2000)
Morecambe (Conference Play-offs 2007)
Northampton (Second Division Runners-up 1965)
Plymouth (FA Cup Semi-finalist 1984)
Port Vale (League Trophy 1993, 2001)
Southend (League One Champions 2006)
Torquay (League Trophy Runners up 1989)
Wimbledon (Conference Play-offs 2011)
Wycombe (FA Cup Semi-finalists 2001)
York (Third Division Promotion 1974)

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